If you’ve ever dreamed of getting to stay and play in the Disney theme parks at night after the daytime crowds have exited, the Disneyland Resort has a series of late-night parties that may be right up your alley. But do the Disneyland After Dark special events really deliver in terms of value and unique experiences? We recently attended one of the Disneyland After Dark 2022 events to bring you this Unofficial Guide to the Disneyland Resort’s newest after-hours events.
For starters, Disneyland After Dark is the umbrella name for a number of special nighttime parties being held on select nights throughout the spring of 2022. These events are held in either Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure, and they run for four hours after the park’s regular closing time.
Disneyland After Dark events are “hard ticket” events, which means regular theme park admission tickets and Magic Key annual passes are not valid for admission; you must purchase a special After Hours event ticket directly from Disney, which provides access to the designated park for the party starting up to three hours before the event begins. [All general admission tickets are sold out at this time.]
This year, the Disneyland After Dark 2022 event themes were Sweethearts’ Nite, held February 1, 3, 8, 10, and 14 at Disneyland Park; Villains Nite, held March 8 and 10 at Disney California Adventure Park; and Star Wars Nite, to be held May 3, 4, and 27 at Disneyland Park. Each party has a different theme with unique elements, but all feature special attractions and entertainment, rare character sightings, and the opportunity to purchase exclusive food and merchandise.
We attended the second evening of the Disneyland After Dark 2022 Villains Nite event. Here we share our experience to help you decide if the these limited-time experiences are worth your time and money.
Disneyland After Dark Character Encounters & Photo Ops
By far, the most popular element of the Disneyland After Dark parties is the opportunity to spot seldom-seen characters, some of whom only appear at these special events.
For the Disneyland After Dark events in February and March 2022, safety restrictions meant that event guests sometimes waited up to an hour to snap a socially distanced selfie with a single character. But with up-close character encounters returning to Disney parks starting April 18, you can anticipate that the character greeting queues at the May events will move even slower than before.
Disneyland After Dark event maps point out character meet & greet locations, but they don’t indicate exact set times. Be aware that characters may alternate every half-hour, so the character appearing when you get in line may be gone by the time it’s your turn.
In addition to character encounters, you’ll find a large variety of photo op backdrops around the park, perfect for posing in front of and posting to your social media page. Some are simple background images, while others offer physical props to interact with.
Each photo op is accompanied by a Disney PhotoPass photographer, whose services are included in the party ticket price; also expect to find a long, slow-moving queue for all the popular picture spots.
Disneyland After Dark Attractions
The second big reason to attend a Disneyland After Dark event is the chance to experience some of your favorite rides in a different way, thanks to the return of some special attraction overlays.
During Villains Nite, guests could enjoy the “Monsters After Dark” variation of Guardians of the Galaxy—Mission: Breakout!, a scarier, heavy-metal version normally reserved for the Halloween season.
At Star Wars Nite, guests will be able to blast off to a galaxy far, far away on Hyperspace Mountain, which adds X-Wings and TIE Fighters—along with John Williams’s stirring score—to the Tomorrowland classic Space Mountain.
Keep in mind that both of these attraction overlays can be experienced without purchasing a Disneyland After Dark party ticket. Monsters After Dark is typically available to all Disney California Adventure visitors in October after 5 p.m.; and Hyperspace Mountain will be offered daily in Disneyland from April 29 through at least the end of May.
Even some minor attractions get into the act, such as DCA’s Animation Academy, where Villains Nite attendees could learn how to sketch sinister stars like Scar.
Beyond the special attraction overlays, another highlight of the Disneyland After Dark events is the ability to experience popular E-Ticket rides with shorter-than-usual waits. Capacity for the events is capped, and many attendees are more interested in the unique characters and entertainment than re-riding old favorites.
Most importantly, Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane return times are not sold during the after-hours events, which makes the attractions’ standby queues move with maximum efficiency. (DAS is still available to assist registered guests during events.) As a result, attendees can expect to encounter waits of 20 minutes or less for most attractions, especially during the final hour of the party.
Disneyland After Dark Live Entertainment
Perhaps the most exclusive elements of the Disneyland After Dark events are the live shows and entertainments, some of which can’t be seen anywhere else. For example, Sweethearts Nite presented a special fireworks show, as well as live jazz music aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat; Star Wars Nite also features a unique pyrotechnic display, along with the revival of Captain Phasma’s March of the First Order character parade; and all events include themed dance parties with high-decibel DJs and dynamic lighting displays.
The Disneyland After Dark Villains Nite we attended had two featured live shows. Ursula’s Seaside Sing-a-long, which was squeezed in among the dining tables outside Pacific Wharf Cafe, was an audience-participation karaoke stage hosted by a professional singer, who belts Ariel’s signature tune despite dressing like the mermaid’s nemesis.
Much better was The Cauldron, a live song-and-dance show that let Disney’s wickedest women work out their anger issues through clever cabaret-style musical numbers.
Fortunately, none of the Disneyland After Dark live shows requires reserved seating or extensive waiting to secure a view, so in theory it should be easy to work them into your evening. But beware that special event showtimes aren’t listed in the Disneyland smartphone app, so you’ll need to refer to the printed Disneyland After Dark brochure to know where and when the entertainment occurs.
For guests who want to be part of the live entertainment themselves, after-hours events are one of the only times that both kids and grown-ups are allow to wear Jedi robes and other costumes inside the theme parks (although signing autographs or brandishing realistic weapons is still forbidden).
Disneyland After Dark Food & Merchandise
Last (and in our humble opinion least), the Disneyland After Dark events allow guests to wait in absurdly long lines for the opportunity to purchase exclusive food, drink, and merchandise. The locations for these sought-after items are detailed on the event maps, and some are certain to sell out within the opening hour of the evening.
To be honest, the food and drinks seemed to be engineered more for their Instagram impact than actual taste (to say nothing of nutritional content), and the souvenirs for sale at Villains Nite—socks and stickers —weren’t especially exciting.
If shopping and snacking is important to you at a Disneyland After Dark event, pick your priorities quickly and be prepared to spend a substantial portion of the party parked in queues.
At least all attendees take home their event lanyard as a complimentary keepsake!
What’s Missing from Disneyland After Dark?
While it may sound like the Disneyland After Dark events pack a lot into a few hours, the parties do not include a few key elements. For example, guests who have previously attended hard-ticket holiday events will be disappointed to learn that no free snacks—such as hot cocoa, cookies, or Halloween candy —are included in Disneyland After Dark admission.
In addition, the Disneyland After Dark parties don’t include all the entertainment and activities those familiar with similar seasonal parties might expect. In particular, the World of Color: Villainous fountain show, Frightfully Fun parade, and Villains Grove walk-through found at Disney California Adventure’s Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween event were all absent from Villains Nite. (Oogie Boogie Bash tickets also cost about $20 more, but that party runs an hour later.)
Also be aware that not all attractions may be offered during Disneyland After Dark events. Even Rise of the Resistance is not guaranteed to operate throughout the entire Star Wars Nite.
Finally, Disneyland After Dark admission is only good for the park where the party is taking place, and does not provide park-hopper access to the other park during the three hour “mix-in” period prior to the regular park closing. On the positive side, you don’t have to worry about making a park reservation when using an after-hours event ticket; evening access is automatically included in your purchase.
The Bottom Line: Is Disneyland After Dark Worth It?
Does it make sense to make room in your Disneyland Resort visit for an After Dark event? While it’s impossible to estimate the value of some of the unique event offerings, the parties cost $113 to $134 per person for up to seven hours inside the park (including the pre-party mix-in), which works out to $16.14-$19.14 on a strict dollar-per-hour basis.
In comparison, a standard one-day/one-park ticket costs between $104 and $164, with the average price on dates near the Disneyland After Dark events running around $159. That’s $9.94-$13.25 per hour, based on a 12-16 hour operating day, provided you can last that long in the parks without pooping out.
However, if you factor in the additional cost of Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane (which are neither offered nor needed during the special events), that daytime hourly rate increases to as much as $16.58 per hour, which is on par with the party price. In other words, you’ll pay a little more per hour for less time in the park with a Disneyland After Dark ticket, but you’ll potentially accomplish more than you would during the daytime, thanks to shorter waits.
Essential to getting full value from an After Dark event is entering the park a full three hours before the event officially begins. Designated turnstiles will be reserved for party guests, who will receive wristbands upon entry that allow them to remain in the park after regular hours. Lines for event entry form outside the gates an hour or more ahead of time, but guests who are already inside get their credentials at an alternate location.
One final tip: We don’t recommend using a regular park ticket on the same day you attend an After Dark event; it’s more cost-effective to rest up and enjoy a non-gated attraction (such as Downtown Disney or your hotel’s pool) in the daytime before the party. And it’s also not a bad idea to plan on sleeping in the next morning after your big night out!
For all there is to see and do at Disneyland, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. All Disneyland fans should also check out The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.